These posts are about the songs that fell just short of crossing the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.
Gladys Knight & the Pips got their start in Atlanta, first playing talents shows and eventually recorded songs for several different labels, all of them certain that the powerfully voiced singer at the front of the group was bound for chart success. An early cover of Johnny Otis’s “Every Beat of My Heart,” which was released by three different labels in a couple slightly different versions, was an early fulfilled that promise, reaching the Top 10. But nothing else quite took off, at least until Berry Gordy arrived, scouting for acts to add to his booming Motown label. After some initial reluctant, the act signed on. Within a year of signing the contract, they were back in the upper reaches of the Billboard chart, just missing the top spot with “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
It did take some time before Gladys Knight & the Pips were again signing their names to major hits. The following year, 1968, all the group’s singles were middling performers. That included “It Should Have Been Me,” which stalled out at #40. The next single peaked one spot lower, missing the Top 40 threshold. “I Wish It Would Rain” was a big hit for the Temptations in the same year, earning a Top 5 placement, but the Motown habit of quickly recycling songs didn’t pay off in this instance.
There were more hits to come, though, and Knight and her bandmates pushed for better terms in their pact with Motown. When the requested dollars weren’t forthcoming, they left the label and signed with the relatively new Buddah Records, in 1973. Their second single at their new home was a cover of a song originally written and performed by Jim Weatherly. In Weatherly’s rendering, it was a country ditty about flying to Houston. Gladys Knight & the Pips preferred a different variation of the song, perhaps because changed the destination to their home state. “Midnight Train to Georgia” was a huge hit, topping the chart and quickly became the group’s signature song.
Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.